Clayton Diggs

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Louis Armstrong, Divorce, and Brothels

You ever just sit and think about Louis Armstrong? Now most people, when they think of him, they think of this dude with blown out cheeks, singing about how wonderful everything is in that raspy tone that makes you think of a wolf choking on a rooster. But he wasn’t always that fat old guy you’ve probably got in your head.

Hell, once upon a time in New Orleans, Armstrong was some skinny little kid working a job just like the one you probably had when you were a kid: helping Morris Karnofsky deliver coal to whorehouses in the red-light district called Storyville. Now, the good thing for Louis was that part of what Morris had him do was blow on a tin horn all day long (so as to let the whores get their clothes and come out to buy coal), and doing all that blowing helped the boy get the stamina he’d later need to play the trumpet like a living God. Then, one day when little Lou was ten, he saw a beat-up old cornet (a kind of cool, twisted-up trumpet thing) in a store window with a pricetag that said $5, so he borrowed the money from Morris and paid him back at 50¢ a week. The rest, like they say, is history.

I recently read about Louis Armstrong’s early years, and it got me to thinking not just about how cool his music is, but also about how you never know how one thing might lead to another. Like, when little Lou bought that old cornet, did he have any idea it would change his life for good, or that delivering coal to whores was just the right thing for him?

When I got divorced last year, I thought it was kind of the end of the world. I felt damn miserable, alone. I couldn’t stop drinking bourbon and smoking my corncob pipe. (Well, that part’s pretty normal, if I’m honest.) I mean, I knew I had to get divorced. Things with my now-ex just weren’t working for a damn. First we fought about small things, then about big things, then about everything. When I think of the end of my marriage, I kind of picture it as my period of delivering coal to whores. ‘Course, it was my ex-wife doing all the blowing, most of it on the side, but you get the idea.

So one day, sitting here in the country shack that used to belong to my Uncle Remus (a great bootlegger until his still blew up — he’s badly missed), looking at my computer and feeling low, I just went ahead and started writing a story I thought might cheer me up. I’ve always dug reading books on account of my old man having a real fine library, but I never thought about writing one. I think I was scared of what people would think, or if it would be any good. But after the divorce, something changed, I just didn’t care what anybody thought anymore. So I started writing short, funny books, with no other purpose than making myself and my friends crack up. And doing that, it made me feel better. It was like I could take all the shitty sadness I felt burning up my insides and put it down on paper.

Man, this post is a little sadder than the others. But maybe this isn’t a sad story. Maybe the divorce is the thing that had to happen to get me to do what I really should be doing. I’m not the happiest I’ve ever been, but I do feel really good about what I’m doing. Also, all this reflecting is making me damn hungry! So, in honor of old Louie, here’s a mighty fine recipe for New Orleans style red beans and rice:

Red Beans and Rice á la Clayton Diggs:

  • Olive oil
  • I Onion, chopped
  • 10 Garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Green pepper, chopped
  • 1 Celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 Fresh jalapeño, minced
  • 1 t Thyme
  • 1 t Cayenne pepper
  • 1 T Chili Powder
  • 2 Hot sausages, cooked and chopped into cubes
  • 1/2 lb Boiled ham, chopped into little cubes
  • 1 Bag dried red beans, soaked overnight
  • Cooked white rice
  • 1 Louis Armstrong album, preferrably on vinyl
  • 1-8 Sazerac Cocktails — The Officical Cocktail of New Orleans™
  • (3 oz. rye (or other sweet whiskey), bitters, sugar, absinthe (pastis liquer works if you can’t get absinthe), lemon peel, ice. Muddle sugar and bitters in a glass. Add in ice and rye, shake in shaker ’til nice and cold. Coat a highball glass with absinthe. Pour in the strained rye mix. Garnish with a lemon peel.)

Sauteé your veggies for a couple minutes in hot oil, then add the spices and fry a little longer. Now chuck in all that tasty meaty goodness, the beans, and enough water to cover it all up. Cook it in a big pot for 4 hours, adding water as it’s needed. While it’s cooking, play Armstrong loud and proud, the hell with your neighbors, and drink Sazerac Cocktails. When the beans are done, if you can still find your feet, serve them with hot white rice. It’s time to change your life! Yeehah!

“I enjoy brothels and coal delivery. And the trumpet.”

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What Your Kids Know about Squirrel Stew

You ever just sit down and think about what’s really funny? The funniest person I know is my 9 month-old son.  The cool thing about him is that every day, everything he does, it’s a damn premiere.

Imagine that.

Every single thing he sees is brand spankin’ new.  It’s like he’s always cruising his own little red carpet, getting interviewed by that crazy plastic chick — what’s her name?… Joan Rivers. Any time I feel bummed, all I’ve gotta do is watch him eat some pureed bananas or something. He goes: “MMMMM-MMMMMM-MMMMM” like he’s in a trance, and his arm bounces up and down to the beat of some unheard music.

He just started crawling, which is good, because for a long time there he was stuck on dragging himself around the house using only his arms. Man, it was totally creepy.  Remember how in the Terminator flicks some killer robot would get cut in half but it won’t stop coming, just keeps dragging its damn self, looking to kill shit?  My boy was like that.  Plus, he had this thing for dust bunnies, I reckon they looked kind of tasty to him, or cute or something, because any time I’d be sweeping the house, along’d come the boy like a little Terminator robot, pulling himself along using his arms, with his legs dragging behind him, yelling “Da-da-da-da-da-da!” like a crazy man.  You ever see that?

It’s fuckin’ freaky!

And man, I tell you what, this boy loves to eat everything. I’ve got a theory about that, by the way. See, since the time he was a tiny tot, I’ve been feeding him every damn thing you can imagine. Hell, when he was four months he tried squirrel stew and he loved it. Of course, I pushed it through a little baby food mill on account of him not having any teeth, so the whole thing was just a paste, but he sure ate it right up. He puts down every other thing you can name too. Now that’s a little redneck! The way you’ve got to figure it is this: if you give your kid sweet, salty, tasteless, snot-looking food that comes in those itty bitty glass jars, then that’s all he’s ever going to want. You’ve got to expand his horizons! Babies dig spicy muskrat, and hearty beef stew, but most times, they don’t get a chance to try anything that good. Other stuff the kid eats: liver, spinach, beets, tuna casserole, taco salad. Stuff he doesn’t eat: nothing. See what I mean? The proof is in the pudding? Oh, yeah, and he loves pudding. Man, all this food talk, as usual, is giving me the munchies. Here’s a good recipe to keep the homefires burning.

Squirrel Stew:

  • 6 dead-as-hell squirrels
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Red wine
  • Basil and oregano
  • Olive Oil

Filet the squirrels and set aside the good meaty chunks. (A note on squirrels: It’s easy to get the skin off. Just make an incision where the hindquarters meet the hips and pull the skin off like little pants. Then use a real sharp knife to get the meat off the hindlegs. A good-sized squirrel has actually got good meat on it, especially in late fall. Oh yeah, and be sure to pick out any pellets. Lead is not good eating!)

Time to make some tasty squirrel stock. Snap off the femurs and fry them in hot oil to get the flavor out of the marrow. Go ahead and fry up some onions and carrots too. Toss in some basil and oregano, a bunch of water, some salt and pepper, and simmer for half an hour. Strain out the bones but leave in the veggies. Run it all through a blender and set it aside for a little later.

Now chop up your veggies. Sauteé the meat until brown, then add the onions, peppers, then add the tomatoes and the stock. Simmer all that goodness for an hour, two hours, whatever you’ve got at your disposal. Add the potatoes in the last half hour of cooking.

Serve with some crusty bread with lots of butter. Or try this: toast a piece of bread, then butter it and grind some black pepper. Stick it on the bottom of a bowl and pour the stew over it. De-freakin’-licious!

You know what’s cool? If you’ve never had squirrel stew, then this’ll be a premiere for you! Just like being a kid again. Yeehah!

“I’m a dead squirrel. Eat me. I am fuckin’ delicious.”

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